MADRID • It appeared to be a case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object at the Madrid Open, with Karolina Pliskova on an eight-match win streak on clay and Simona Halep looking to extend her 15-match unbeaten run at the tournament.
But Pliskova produced an inspired performance to reach the Madrid semi-finals as defending champion Halep lost her first match at the event in three years yesterday.
The world No. 1, who also won the Madrid title in 2016, struggled to impose her baseline game against the power of Pliskova as she lost 6-4, 6-3.
Pliskova broke Halep's serve four times en route to 20 winners.
"This was one of my best matches of the year," said the world No. 6 after recording only her second victory over Halep and first on clay. "I feel amazing since in the last six matches I lost to her. I never thought I would beat her. My serve was great and everything went my way."
Pliskova will now face either two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova or Russian up-and-comer Daria Kasatkina for a place in Saturday's final.
Halep will still be among the favourites later this month at the French Open, where she has twice finished runner-up, but 26 unforced errors marked the Romanian's error-strewn display.
After beating French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, Anett Kontaveit and Coco Vandeweghe on her way to winning the title in Stuttgart a fortnight ago, Pliskova is now the highest-ranked player left in the draw.
The Czech is building up a head of steam for Roland Garros and this latest victory also had a family flavour, given Halep had knocked out Pliskova's twin sister Kristyna in the previous round.
In the other quarter-final, Caroline Garcia continued her strong run on clay by easing past Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro to make the last four yesterday. After reaching the semi-finals in Stuttgart a fortnight ago, Garcia has yet to drop a set in the Spanish capital as she beat Suarez Navarro 6-2, 6-3.
The world No. 7 registered 28 winners on Manolo Santana court and will now face Kiki Bertens, who beat Maria Sharapova 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 in the other last eight clash, for a place in Saturday's final.
The French Open starts in two weeks and Garcia carries the hopes of a nation to become the first Frenchwoman to win the event since Mary Pierce in 2000.
WTA MADRID OPEN
S-finals: StarHub Ch203, 8pm.